BANGOR, Maine — City councilors put the wheels in motion Monday night for an effort to lift the ban on left turns at the end of the Stillwater exit offramp of Interstate 95.
During a meeting at City Hall, the council adopted a resolve directing Art Morgan, the city’s director of public services, to take the steps needed to lift the ban, which has been in place since Exit 186 was built 12 years ago. Without the council’s support, the effort to allow left turns could not move forward.
The resolve authorizes Morgan to initiate talks to that end with officials from the Maine Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration.
As it stands, motorists are prohibited from making left-hand turns. Drivers may go straight ahead into a shopping plaza or make a right turn onto Stillwater.
Allowing left turns apparently is widely supported, with about 85 percent of those surveyed in favor. During Monday’s meeting, councilors who weighed in on the issue said they supported it as well.
“I see people making dangerous left turns anyway even though it’s not allowed,” said Councilor Ben Sprague, whose workplace is on Stillwater Avenue. “I see people making dangerous U-turns in the [Bangor Parkade] parking lot, the Subway, the Pepino’s parking lot.”
He said, however, that the ban was imposed to protect the quality of life in nearby neighborhoods. He said the city should explore traffic calming options in conjunction with the change.
Councilor Patricia Blanchette said that when the offramp was being considered more than a decade ago, councilors at the time said that no new businesses would be allowed on the left side of the ramp. A later council reversed that.
“Had we had a left-hand turn from the get go down there, we wouldn’t have this problem. But people saw fit to have businesses locate down there,” she said.
“It’s time. It was an error to restrict people from turning left off that to begin with because if you’re going to have businesses down there, people are going to want to go. … So I hope that MDOT takes that into consideration. It’s not just for the convenience to us. It’s about the motoring public’s safety,” she said, noting that roughly 100,000 people come into Bangor daily.
Councilor James Gallant echoed Blanchette’s concerns, adding, “Hopefully this will be resolved soon, but understand that we are working with MDOT and the Federal Highway Administration. Nothing moves swiftly.
Councilor David Nealley noted that there was a time when the turn was opposed.
“People are doing it anyway. [Allowing left turns] certainly seems a pragmatic thing to do at this point. … I think it actually improves traffic flow by allowing that left-hand turn because you see how the traffic backs up in the lane to cut across only to turn around and to come back out and take a right.”
Councilor Charles Longo saw allowing left turns as a “slam dunk issue,” given the support for it.
Councilor Joseph Baldacci agreed the turn was opposed by nearby neighborhoods.
“I don’t think this left-hand turn [ban] was ever popular but it was definitely a concession to try to control the traffic into the residential neighborhoods,” he said. He, too, thought the city needs to look at traffic calming measures “because the neighborhood shouldn’t continue to bear the brunt of the increased commercialization of that area.”